Category Archives: Biophilia

A Perspective on Riverwalks

Feb. 18, 2015
Image courtesy of RediscovertheFalls.com

Image courtesy of RediscovertheFalls.com

Oregon Metro has a Request For Proposals open for a Willamette Falls Riverwalk Schematic Design that has attracted attention from design firms around North America.  I must admit that I haven’t been attracted to the “riverwalk” concept as most of its purveyors ignore the need to restore any habitat.

But Willamette Falls is different.  Right at the start, prospective proposers are informed of four core values that this riverwalk partnership has established. And Healthy Habitat–riparian, shoreline and in stream–is one of them!

After trying for two weeks, I haven’t been able to get onto anybody’s team–and it’s getting to be so late in the process that my chances are waning.  I feel that with the right team, this project  could be a near perfect fit with the mission of PlanGreen.  It has creating multi-modal linkages (transit, foot, bike and car), public participation, habitat restoration, cultural and natural history interpretation–all rolled into it.

Before & after photos by JD.  She says "The top photo shows the view into what was then the Southeast Federal Center in April 2004; the bottom photo, in February 2012, reflects how things have changed in eight years."  I'm no fan of turfgrass, but is this what we want our rivers to look like?

Before & after photos by JD. She says “The top photo shows the view into what was then the Southeast Federal Center in April 2004; the bottom photo, in February 2012, reflects how things have changed in eight years.” I’m no fan of turfgrass, but is this what we want our rivers to look like?

I was involved in the early stages of planning another “Riverwalk” –along the Anacostia River in Washington DC.  Jacqueline Dupree’s jdland web site provides some of the best photos of what is happening with it today.  Apparently 12 of its 20 miles is now built.  I must admit that it’s a bit painful, though not unexpected, for me to see the photos.  I feared having a trail that did little for most wildlife and little for pedestrians.  I feared a trail with too little habitat and too little shade.

I’m sure I sounded like a broken record in the early Anacostia Riverwalk planning process, but at every opportunity, I called for three things–all related:

  • Habitat restoration
  • Native trees along the length of the trail to provide shade for pedestrians
    ​ [walking outside in hot humid DC summers can be​ a pretty miserable experience without shade]
  • ​Bioretention of stormwater​ utilizing native plants

Jaqueline’s photos show that I was not highly successful. However, one of The DC government’s web pages on the Riverwalk maintains:

Key design elements throughout the trail include the following:

  • Inclusion of rain gardens and bioswales
  • Installation of shared-use paths and educational signage
  • Enhancement of trail viewsheds to bring users closer to the water’s edge
  • Minimize impacts of paving on other trail infrastructure on the natural environment.

So, maybe I got one out of three–if their rain gardens and bioswales are constructed using native plants.  With regard to their fourth design element, the only “natural environment” is in the Kenilworth Gardens portion of the trail–scheduled to be completed this spring.

I wanted–and still want–to see more ecological restoration along the rest of the trail where there is little natural environment.  I hope that the design team selected for the Willamette Falls Riverwalk will put the needs of Mother Earth over their need to make a design statement.

I hope that those involved with Willamette Falls will do so well with ecological restoration that they will inspire the people of Oregon City to rid their own trees and parks of English ivy, Himalayan blackberry, clematis, and myriad other invasive species that plague Oregon City and the Portland Metro region.  I hope they will restore healthy habitat.

City Creek Center as Biodiversity Engine?

DSCN0940June 2013 – City Creek Center was started in 2003 by the real estate investment arm of the Latter Day Saints. The intent was to bring back Salt Lake City’s Main Street in a downtown that was losing out to the suburbs. It’s a mixed-use project that includes retail shops, office space and 435 condominiums and 110 apartments. No public subsidy was received so the project does not include “affordable housing.”

It’s also a green roof project in that its 90,000 square feet of plantings, courtyards, roof gardens and water features cover a 6000 space parking structure. What a waterproofing challenge!

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Both sides of the first Main Street TRAX stop are bordered by the Center. Photo courtesy of UTA.

“The things the LDS Church is doing with City Creek Center are going to be a positive boost to walkability and transit in Utah” according to “Faith in Action: Communities of Faith Bring Hope for the Planet,” a national report of the Sierra Club.  The Center brought more residents, employees, shoppers and diners to use the light rail system called TRAX.

Opening in 2012, with final touches added in 2013, this downtown revitalization project took 10 years to complete.  With development continuing throughout the crash in real estate, it was one of the only privately-funded projects of its size in the US that continued to build over the last few years. I happened to meet the Portland-based ZGF architect who was their project manager for the residential portion this week (at an event in Portland, first week of June 2013) and she confirmed how important this project was to her firm.  It also kept 2000 others employed throughout the development cycle and now employs over 7000 people.  It had about 16 million visitors in its first year of operation.

You can read more about the economic development aspects of City Creek Center elsewhere e.g., Salt Lake Tribune.  What I’m going to look at here is what role City Creek Center plays in putting Salt Lake City on the path to becoming the engine of biodiversity that Richard Louv exhorted CNU 21 attendees to work towards in our work.

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Although I’m not a fan of shopping centers, the creek kept me coming back day-after-day

City Creek Center was actually in the middle of my route to and from the Grand America Hotel where CNU21 was held from May 29 to June 1, 2013. Even though I’m NOT a fan of shopping centers, once I saw the creek there, I happily sauntered through it every day of my five-day stay.  It gave me a taste of what I was missing in the nearby canyons as I made my way to The Grand America each day.  The creek stimulated for me feelings of peacefulness—and a desire to get out into the real thing.

I recognized immediately the trees native to this area: Populus tremuloides – aspen; Betulae occidentalis – water birch; and Prunus virginiana – chokecherry. They were planted along a lovely creek that bubbled through boulders of native sandstone.  Below the canopy level, there were native sedges and rushes and shrubs– and a few plants I didn’t recognize as native. Tough non-native shrubs were brought in to overcome the trampling the natives were experiencing.

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Developers made an extraordinary effort to re-create the iconic creek that was so critical in Salt Lake City’s founding

I appreciated the fact that the developers named this center after a natural feature that used to be there—AND that they made an extraordinary attempt to re-create that natural feature in their development. The creek flows across three city blocks, and drops 37 feet in elevation from beginning to end. Some 600 boulders were brought in from an area near Park City and 627 native trees from nurseries in Oregon and Idaho.

As it meanders along pedestrian walkways and cafes, the recreated creek features three waterfalls and a fountain with 50-foot-high jets. The creek varies in width from one foot to 28 feet and from four inches to 18 inches in depth.  Some parts of the creek were stocked with Bonneville cutthroat trout and rainbow trout and those fish are now reproducing.

A 17-foot waterfall at Regent Court cascades at 2,500 gallons per minute over 14 ton Utah sandstone boulders.  The landscape is actually comprised of 13 different water features that recirculate their potable water. According to Ross Nadeau, Landscape Architect project manager, “We looked at utilizing City Creek itself and then at the de-watering water from the site, but we couldn’t make either work because of the filtration costs.”

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The creek serves as a draw for shoppers, employees and residents

City Creek Center received a LEED ND rating of Silver for its multiple efforts to be sustainable.  “The heart and namesake of our development is the re-creation of City Creek, which many years ago used to run through the downtown area of Salt Lake City,” said Val Fagre, former City Creek Reserve project manager—now retired. The craftsmanship put into building the creek is extraordinary.  And I can vouch that the creek serves as a draw for shoppers, employees and residents of City Creek Center. In the two times I ate at the Food Court there, I went to extra effort to sit near the creek. The Center also seems to attract plenty of young people to hang out on Friday and Saturday nights.

Nearby, City Creek Canyon has been protected from the beginning of the city’s history (over 150 years) to protect drinking water and wildlife habitat.  According to students in a class project in General Ecology at Westminster College:

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Glacier lilies are found along the City Creek Canyon Nature Trail

By learning the names of the native trees and shrubs that support the wildlife in City Creek Canyon along the nature trail loop, one can see which plants may be useful in backyard landscaping. Native plants introduced into the urban landscape around houses and yards help wildlife to survive in the city and help conserve water.

Based upon the students’ observations (I didn’t get there), City Creek Canyon could qualify as an engine of biodiversity.  But could City Creek Center qualify?

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City Creek Preserve could help City Creek Park become a true gateway to City Creek Canyon wildlife corridor–as well as give it a role in flood protection. Right now, it’s a concrete ditch (lower right). Photo courtesy of SLC Parks.

I missed the small signs that interpret the plants and fish of City Creek Center so it was not apparent to me how it was being used to influence further biodiversity–but the signage is there.  Does the experience of being in a pleasant environment lead people to go home and attempt to mimic what they saw while shopping or dining? Perhaps the center could be more proactive and run some “naturescaping” classes and host some native plant sales by local groups.  The project I would most like to see is for City Creek Preserve to work with the City’s Department of Parks and Public Lands to restore City Creek Park, to a more natural condition making it a better gateway to City Creek Canyon.  A stream buffer and wetlands could be quite important there to prevent or alleviate flooding in the future, e.g., heavy snow melt flooded State Street in 1983. The City is already undertaking some watershed restoration projects funded by Chevron as mitigation for an oil spill.  Hopefully, it won’t take such a negative event for City Creek Preserve to offer such assistance in order to increase its role as a biodiversity engine.

The boulders came from Brown’s Canyon quarry, a 100 year-old business near Park City.    Does that quarry have a biodiversity management plan (a BMP for quarries developed by World Wildlife Fund)? If not, what role should City Creek Preserve play in suggesting they start one?  Of course, such a suggestion would carry more weight before the stone was purchased.

The developers took their project through the pilot phase of LEED ND.  But did they consider Sustainable Sites, a system focused on measuring and rewarding a project that protects, restores and regenerates ecosystem services – benefits provided by natural ecosystems such as cleaning air and water, climate regulation and human health benefits.

I believe City Creek Center would score well in the “Human Health & Well-being” category.  But I’m still concerned about all of the water and power used in this engineered ecosystem. Tell us what you think below: Does City Creek Center pass muster as a biodiversity engine for Salt Lake City?  Why or why not?

 

Park City As Biodiverstiy Engine?

Park City As Biodiverstiy Engine?

June 3, 2013  Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods and The Nature Principle (as well as six other books), was the keynote speaker at CNU 21, the 21st annual conference of the Congress for the New Urbanism, held this year in Salt Lake City, Utah. CNU 21’s theme was Living Community and Louv’s task was to weave the connection between family, nature and community.

Louv made his case on the disconnect between children and nature with some of the data and anecdotes from his books. Most importlay, the remedy he proposes is “A NEW KIND OF CITY”  “Cities can become engines of biodiversity,” he proclaimed.

What if CNU sponsored an effort to create a “homegrown national park” along the lines of what author and entomologist Doug Tallamy calls for in his book Bringing Nature Home? Louv asked. Tallamy suggests that if people would turn their backyards into native habitat, we could provide so many more ecosystem services to address the big problems of our time:BackyardHabSign

  • Climate change
  • The crash in biodiversity
  • The disconnect between children & nature

Louv exhorted us to embrace the New Nature Movement  using as an example Bill McDonough’s design  for a hospital in Spain. In the design, one side is a green wall; another side is solid solar panels done in the colors of a butterfly that is about to go extinct in that region; the third side is a vertical farm that will feed people in the hospital. It’s an example of a building that not only conserves energy, but also produces human energy – through the food grown, and the view of plants and more natural habitat. What’s more, this hospital takes the next step: regeneration. The hospital’s bottom floor will become a “butterfly factory” where anyone who walks into the hospital may see one of the threatened butterflies of the region land on them. The hospital staff will reach out to every school, place of worship, business, and home and say, “You can do this, too. We can bring this butterfly back.”  So this building is not only conserving energy and producing human energy through biophilic design, it is, in a sense, giving birth – by helping a species survive. Conservation is no longer enough! We must regenerate nature–bring it back into our cities! proclaimed Louv.

Louv didn’t take questions at the plenary.  Instead it was suggested that we could ask them at the book-signing table–where a long line quickly formed.  I was delighted to see that sales were brisk as Louv covers topics that he could only mention in his talk in much more detail in the books .

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Because this land is in the public realm, it is a great place to start the movement towards a “homegrown national park.”

The next day, the mountains surrounding Salt Lake City were calling to me, so I joined the tour to Park City’s historic main street. During the time set aside for lunch, three of us encountered a pleasant park on our walk up Main Street. I asked my two companions what they thought of Richard Louv’s talk the night before. The Gen X one said it had introduced her to the important concept of “Nature Deficit Disorder” in both children and adults and that she would look for opportunities to help overcome this disorder in her future work.  HOORAY!

The other, a CNU Board member, said he thought the speech was not very insightful and was lacking in specifics on which to  move forward.  He felt that the lack of visuals (no PowerPoint or anything else) was a real negative.  The speech simply lacked specific examples of what Louv was talking about. “I see what you mean,” I said, “but I can provide one here.”

To the surprise, if not disgruntlement, of my companions, I used a “nature principle” framework to assess the park. According to Louv, studies show that parks with the highest biodiversity are the parks from which people benefit the most psychologically. How did this park rank?

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By failing to slow, cool and filter street runoff above,-the town was losing habitat value of this creek

There was a small creek running through the park, but you could see from the large storm drain in the street above that this creek could become a danger to children and pets whenever it received street runoff–because of both pollutants and flashiness. I imagined the hard rains two days earlier creating a mini flash flood through here. By failing to slow, cool and filter street runoff–perhaps in a series of lovely native plant rain gardens–the town was losing out on the habitat value that this creek could provide to many aquatic species.

 

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Rather than these alien ornamentals, Utah’s colorful and hardy native species could provide habitat for native insects, the base of the food chain, as well as education about natural heritage

Rather than utilize some of Utah’s fabulous high desert lupines, lomatiums, paintbrush, asters, daisies, phlox and other plant species to celebrate its historic natural as well as cultural heritage, the same old over-utilized plant species we see in Anywhere USA plus turf grass graced the park. Native plants would also be far better habitat for the base of the food chain,native insects, as well.

So, utilizing the guidepost of biodiversity, Old Town Neighborhood Park would not rank very well. But, because this land is in the public realm, it is a great place to start the movement towards a “homegrown national park.”  With a diverse landscape of natives and educational signage and perhaps classes, I could imagine this park helping to transform those Park City yards that are now filled with dandelions, garlic mustard and other invasives into an engine for biodiversity. So Park City, let’s get started!

Portland: A New Kind of City I

. . . As of 2008, more people now live in cities than in the countryside, worldwide. This is a huge moment in human history. This means one of two things: either human connection to nature will continue to disintegrate, or this will lead to the beginning of a new kind of city, one with new kinds of workplaces and homes that actually connect people to nature.         Richard Louv, Leaf Litter, Winter Solstice 2012

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The Portland Comp Plan Working Draft 1 released in January, 2013 begins to envision that new kind of city for this “huge moment in history.” It includes a transportation network that aspires to integrate nature into neighborhoods through civic corridors, neighborhood greenways and habitat connections. By doing that it seeks to: 1) increase people’s access to the outdoors, 2) provide corridors for wildlife movement, and 3) catch and treat stormwater.Its Watershed Health and the Environment chapter encourages the protection/enhancement of natural systems and their role in promoting public health—as you might expect from a chapter with that heading. However the emphasis on “designing with nature” in both its Design and Development chapter and its Transportation chapter is what really sets this plan apart and makes it transformational. It puts Portland ahead of the curve in creating Louv’s new kind of city!

The fact that we have such wise and forward-thinking planners and advisory groups to create such a draft plan does NOT mean that the work is over, however.  The devil is in the details!  So, I hope that you will review those details, attend a community workshop or two, and add your thoughts. Below, I’m sharing some of my own comments on the Comp Plan Working Draft 1 in hopes that you will voice your support for them as well as develop your own points.

I was excited to see the draft Comp Plan promise (p,14) “encouraging building and site designs that have native plants and more permeable surfaces and mimic nature, so that pollutants stay out of rivers and streams.” Only once in the actual policies, however, is there any mention of native vegetation. And that one citation is followed by an exception big enough to let an area that could be a haven for more native wildlife—the west side of the Willamette River from the Steel to the Ross Island Bridges—stand as is: largely bereft of native vegetation.

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It’s difficult to find native plants along the west side of the Willamette River from Steel Bridge to Ross Island Bridge

Policy 4.3 Vegetation. Protect, enhance and restore native AND OTHER BENEFICIAL (emphasis mine) vegetation in riparian corridors, wetlands, floodplains and upland areas.

Change to:

Policy 4.3 Vegetation. Protect, enhance and restore native vegetation throughout the landscape.

4.3a. Riparian Corridors, Wetlands, And Floodplains:  Protect, enhance and restore native vegetation in critical wildlife areas such as riparian corridors, wetlands, and floodplains.

4.3b. Upland Areas:  Protect and enhance native and other beneficial tree species. Restore the landscape with diverse native species including trees, shrubs and wildflowers.

My further comments on Policy 4.3: Since riparian corridors, wetlands, and floodplains are the most critical areas for wildlife they are the most important to be restored to predominantly native plants.  What we plant from here on out along our rivers, streams and wetlands should be native check over here. Remove “and other beneficial” vegetation from the policy.

Chair of the Department of Entomology at the University of Delaware, Douglas Tallamy, in his book Bringing Nature Home argues that if alien species were providing as many ecosystem services in their new homes as they did where they evolved, they would support about the same number of insect species in both areas—but they do not. He states:

For an alien species to contribute to the ecosystem it has invaded, it must interact with the other species in that ecosystem in the same ways that the species it has displaced interacted. . . This contribution is most likely when species have evolved together over long periods of time.

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Tallamy’s slide show at Oregon Community Trees conference left community foresters committed to using native trees.

Upland areas could be separate. I would not argue against enhancing the lives of some non-invasive, non-native trees (such as our large old elms) via treatment. I’m not yet ready to maintain that all of the street trees the city plants should be native—only that many, many more of them should be. Tallamy keynoted an Oregon Community Trees conference last year where he made the same point I’m making–as well as a lasting impression on attendees involved with community trees. “When I talk about the value of biodiversity, he said, I am talking about a natural resource that is critical to our long-term persistence in North America.”

 The Comp Plan needs to stress the need to plant more NATIVE trees and plants in upland areas too.  See my next blog, Portland: A New Kind of City II  for further comments on Working Draft 1 of the Portland Comp Plan.

Bringing the Wild Back to the City – Part 2

As I explained in Part 1 of Bringing the Wild Back to the City, I’m trying to take members of the built environment community to the wild to show them how nature does things in ways that are often more  efficient, elegant and pleasing to the eye than what we design.  Last week, I was presented with an opportunity to put this knowledge into action.  At a meeting on Portland’s NE Quadrant Plan last week, as I picked up the written comments of Audubon Society of Portland’s Conservation Director, Bob Sallinger, I was asked if I wanted to testify myself.  At first, I declined, but after reading Bob’s comments, I was inspired to expand upon them.

Testimony to the NE Quadrant, Central City 2035 Stakeholders Advisory Committee –       June 28, 2012

I’m testifying to endorse and expand upon the comments of Bob Sallinger (Audubon Society of Portland) on the SAC draft NE Quadrant Plan.  I have several relevant affiliations, but I’m testifying only on behalf of myself and my Woman Business Enterprise, PlanGreen.  I’m also an Audubon member who once played a role on its Conservation Committee.  My comments are all aimed at increasing the ecosystem services of our landscapes, letting nature help us create infrastructure that is sustainable, efficient and aesthetically appealing. What’s in black, bold italic are Sallinger’s points.  The rest is my expansion.

1. Protect undeveloped river banks and riparian buffers and add strong language to restore developed banks when redevelopment occurs.  When I was writing an article for Urban Land on Portland as a model for waterfront redevelopment, one of the most impressive tools I downloaded was the Willamette Riverbank Design Notebook (done by a team chaired by Mike Abbaté, now Director of Portland Parks). I was thrilled to see a city trying to make room for other species–even in its most urban and urbanizing areas. This is a mark of true wisdom.  Please reference and utilize this unique document during implementation phase.

2. Include specific targets for ecoroofs and other green infrastructure from the watershed plan.  To this I would add that to truly follow through on Portland’s world class Watershed Management Plan, any ecoroofs, bioswales, raingardens, green walls,, parks, etc., need to use the landscape to provide far greater ecosystem services than those extant today.  If we use NATIVE plant communities rather than the incipient invasive species, such as Nandina, that are so greatly overused in bioswales on Portland’s green streets today, we will provide habitat for the base of the food chain, our native insects.  Insects are so important, not only for all the jobs they do–like pollination and detritus decomposition–but as food for the birds that provide us with additional services in keeping a balanced urban ecosystem–in addition to the beauty and delight that they provide us.

3. Reference the tree targets in the Urban Forestry Plan.  Again, I believe that much more effort should be put to planting NATIVE trees.  If sidewalk uplift is a potential problem, then utilize a technology such as Deep Root that will prevent it. As a Tree Crew Leader for Friends of Trees, I always compliment a homeowner who has chosen a native tree.  Invariably, the other homeowners on my crew say “We would have chosen native too, if we had known.”  Recent Oregon Community Trees keynote speaker, Doug Tallamy, told the Chicago Tribune that while Portland is lush and beautiful, it is DEAD.  That’s because the overwhelming majority of our vegetation is non-native and the larvae of our native insects need native plants to complete their cycle into adults.

4.  Encourage bird-friendly building design utilizing the “Resource Guide for Birdfriendly Building Design” recently published by Audubon, along with the City and USFWS.

Thank you so much for your time.  And by the way, I want to say that as someone who lives downtown and walks and bikes nearly everywhere I go, I couldn’t disagree more with the last speaker (Terry Parker) who called for increasing auto capacity to the level that you increase the density.  That is definitely not needed and, in fact, counterproductive.
Sincerely,
Mary Vogel

Bringing The Wild Back To The City

Oregon Community Trees recent keynote speaker Dr. Doug Tallamy says that while Portland is lush and beautiful, it is DEAD!  Portland has so few insects because most of the vegetation in the city is non-native and the native insects, that are the base of the food chain, need native plants to reproduce!

Enthusiastic participants – Trapper Creek Wilderness

I lead field trips to the wild on weekends that focus on native plant and wildlife communities—helping people appreciate them for their intrinsic beauty and wonder and also for the ecosystems services they provide.  I ask folks who sign up to help me make the trips as participatory as possible by doing a bit of research on the natural or cultural history of the region to share with the group. Some do!  The trips provide a good way to renew the body, rejuvenate the spirit and make new friends.

I’m trying to recruit more people on my trips who will come back to the city and incorporate what they discover into our overall green infrastructure: green streets, green roofs, green walls, green landscapes and green buildings as well as designs for walkable neighborhoods and great urbanism region-wide. So I’d especially like help in getting word out to landscape architects, landscape suppliers and builders.  To really be effective its crucial to reach all parts of the built environment community: planners, designers, developers, financiers, suppliers and builders.

I schedule my trips through Portland-Vancouver Sierra Club Outings Meetup (free to join) because Sierra Club offers leader training, first aid and insurance.  And Sierra Club has advocated for the things I care about since 1892.  The trips are also free, though Sierra Club asks that you consider a voluntary $2-3 donation towards its leader training. I help people explore and appreciate ancient (aka old growth) forests; showy wildflower meadows and their more modest cousins under the forest canopy; wild rivers and streams; and mountain lakes with wetlands. In winter, I look for places with good snow for XC skiing. If I have to pick a favorite, it’s the west side Cascades. But I plan to include some trips to the east side of the Cascades and the Oregon Coast as well.

Not all of my trips are to wilderness areas (limited to 12), but the ones that are sometimes fill up fast.   Identify yourself as a Built Environment Professional in your profile when you sign up. If I can, I’ll give you priority for a spot on the trips. (People who have signed up, drop off at the last minute–or they don’t show up at all! So I’ll promise that you won’t be turned away if you have put yourself on the waiting list.)

I myself am an urban planner who wants to preserve the wild by bringing more of what people appreciate there back to the city to help make our cities and towns more livable, healthy, climate-friendly and resilient.  I strive to create places that people don’t feel the need to escape.  I hope you will join me in enjoying and protecting the wild—and bringing more of it back to the city.  Urbanism and nature can co-exist.  In fact, if our species is to survive they must!

Mary Vogel
PlanGreen